The Master Metal Worker

A good teacher can both instruct and inspire their students and this is what Gary Hibbert, the light fabrication sheet metal teacher at Ultimo TAFE in Sydney, does. Gary teaches light metal fabrication and welding to apprentices, and there are also night-courses for mature age students, practical welding sessions for uni students as part of their engineering degrees and the TAFE also trains VET teachers for high-school.

Gary began his own apprenticeship in sheet metal in the early 1980s at the Department of Main Roads' Central Workshop in Granville, Sydney. He then stayed there for a further 13 years, moving on through various positions before finally coming to TAFE.

A good teacher, Gary notes, is "passionate about what they do" - they establish good relationships to help communicate that learning to their students. That passion helps instill a sense of pride in the students and in their work. This sense of pride has helped drive two of Gary's former students, Skene Robertson and Mark Sebing, to win the industry's highest accolade for an apprentice - the Sheet Metal Industry Associate Apprentice of the Year Award in 2004 and 2007 respectively."I love my trade and I like being able to pass that on," Gary beams.

The SIA Apprentice of the Year Award is designed to promote the industry and highlight the work being done by young sheet metal fabrication apprentices. With the competition becoming more competitive as awareness of it increases. "It's a thrill as much for me as it is for the apprentices and their employers when they win these sorts of awards."

Like many other trades sheet metal fabrication is facing a shortage of skilled workers. Manufacturing, Gary notes, makes up 12% of employment in NSW, so there are plenty of job opportunities available for young people interested in metal fabrication...

VJ Rodney Meier